DE QUEEN, Ark. (KTAL/KMSS) – There’s a new face on the firefighting force in De Queen, and it may not be one you expect.
A woman is making history as the town’s first full-time female firefighter.
“Kinda shocking, still,” said Jessica McGough. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I really am the first one.’”
But McGough isn’t concerned about her place in the history books.
“Just to know that I’m out there helping, saving people. It’s what I want to do,” said McGough.
For McGough, battling blazes is in her blood. Her dad fought fires in Horatio, Arkansas, and her grandfather retired as a volunteer with the De Queen department.
When it came time to hire for this position, De Queen Fire Chief Dennis Pruitt said he had lots of applications, even from folks currently fighting fires.
“I kept telling them, ‘What are you gonna do if a girl kicks your butt?’ And we all laughed about it, including myself,” said Pruitt.
But, it’s McGough who’s having the last laugh.
“I wouldn’t say they look at me different, but they do question things,” said McGough. “‘Can you really do it?’ The answer’s yes.”
It’s a physically demanding job. The fire protection gear she will have to wear weighs 75 pounds, then there’s the added intense heat from the flames.
Chief Pruitt said her determination caught his attention.
“When it came down to heart and someone that I thought was gonna do it, we hired a girl,” said Pruitt.
Her skills also set her apart.
“She’d never been in a fire truck and she drove every one of them and backed them in the station,” said Pruitt. “We’ve got guys that can’t do that now. Including myself half the time.”
McGough has risen to every challenge presented to earn the team’s respect.
“She’s proven herself in training fires we’ve had and other things that I think they’ve accepted her and I think that was my biggest concern,” said Pruitt.
She’s now shadowing the team on calls until she passes training at the state fire academy.
“If they get through with her and tell me she’s good enough to fight fire, she’s good enough to fight fire,” said Pruitt. “And I’ll send her in with anybody.”
McGough heads to the state fire academy in August to receive her certification. She must pass the academy to continue serving with the department.